Vietnam Under Glass [THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA]

From the Chicago Reader (March 11, 1994). — J.R.

*** THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA

(A must-see)

Directed and written by Tran Anh Hung

With Lu Man San, Tran Nu Yen-khe, Truong Thi Loc, Nguyen Anh Hoa, Vuong Hoa Hoi, and Tran Ngoc Trung.


Until fairly recently, films from the Chinese- and Vietnamese-speaking world have had next to no distribution here; so it’s worth noting that three such movies have been nominated for the foreign-language Oscar: Farewell My Concubine from Hong Kong, The Wedding Banquet from Taiwan, and The Scent of Green Papaya from Vietnam. The first two of these have already opened in Chicago, and the third — in some ways my favorite in the bunch — is starting a run this week at the Fine Arts. What overlapping interests — economic, cultural, artistic, ideological — are being served by this sudden upsurge in attention?

Interestingly enough, none of these Oscar nominees qualifies purely and unambiguously as a movie representing the country officially attached to it. Though Farewell My Concubine was produced in Hong Kong, all its action takes place in mainland China, and it was directed by a celebrated “Fifth Generation” filmmaker, Chen Kaige. The Wedding Banquet, a Taiwanese-American coproduction, has a Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, but it’s set in New York City and much of its dialogue is in English.… Read more »

Response to Patrick McGilligan’s Woody Allen Poll

Preparing a book about Woody Allen, biographer Patrick McGilligan sent out a poll to me and many others, and here are my responses to his questions:

THE WOODY ALLEN POLL

1.  What five Woody Allen films do you hold in the highest regard?  

(List the five in any order.   One equal point will be assigned to each of your choices for the cumulative total to be listed from 100 participating critics and scholars.)

whatsuptl3

annie-hall

 

broadwaydannyrose

1989-oedipus-wrecks

mmm3

 

 

What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Annie Hall

Broadway Danny Rose

Oedipus Wrecks 

Manhattan Murder Mystery

2.  What do you believe about the allegation by Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter, that he sexually molested her?   

            c.  Undecided.

3.  Have the Dylan Farrow allegations, or his marriage to Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn – either or both – affected your view of his film?

No.

4.  How has his over-all legacy been affected?  Comments are welcome.

I’ve always thought he was overrated (cf. my “Notes Toward the Devaluation of Woody Allen”). If his reputation and legacy as an artist have been tarnished by these unconfirmed charges or his marriage, this only illustrates the public’s lack of seriousness about art. I find Allen’s far more confirmable shame and embarrassment about his working-class origins and his middle-class values far more relevant to the importance and (lack of) depth of his work. Read more »

Kids Stuff [THE HUDSUCKER PROXY]

From the April 1, 1994  Chicago Reader. — J.R.

* THE HUDSUCKER PROXY

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Joel Coen

Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Sam Raimi

With Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman, Charles Durning, John Mahoney, Jim True, and William Cobbs.

A black man called Moses but who might as well be named Rastus serves as the narrator for the opening and closing segments of Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy. A janitor type who takes care of the giant clock near the top of the Hudsucker Industries building, an art-deco skyscraper in midtown Manhattan, Moses (William Cobbs) knows everything of importance there is to know about Hudsucker Industries, including all of its secrets. And in case you’re wondering how he knows, the Coen brothers have a ready answer: this is Hollywood, and like every other figure in the movie, Moses is a Hollywood cliché. In old-fashioned studio pictures, black janitors or clock tenders with names like Moses are chock-full of down-home wisdom as well as concrete information about what all those funny white folks is doing.

Resurrecting a racial stereotype like Moses for a 90s comedy may sound dubious, but I suspect the Coens would have an answer to that as well.… Read more »

Review of Five Books about John Cassavetes

From Cineaste (December 2001).

For a long time, I hesitated about reprinting this, but the news about Ray Carney’s unspeakable treatment of filmmaker Mark Rappaport (as detailed here) eliminated my compunctions.

For more about Rappaport’s work, here are three of the many links on this site:

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2014/05/40758/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2018/05/mark-rappaport-2/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2015/04/recommnded-viewing-mark-rappaports-i-dalio/

– J.R.

 

 

Cassavetes on Cassavetes
Edited by Ray Carney. London and New York: Faber and Faber, 2001. 526 pp., illus. Paperback: $25.00.

The Films of John Cassavetes: Pragmatism, Modernism, and the Movies
by Ray Carney. Cambridge, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1994. 322 pp., illus. Paperback: $24.95.

John Cassavetes: The Adventure of Insecurity
by Ray Carney. Second Edition. Walpole, MA: Company C Publishing, 2000. 64 pp., illus. Paperback: $15.00.

Shadows
by Ray Carney. London: British Film Institute (BFI Film Classics), 2001. 87 pp., illus. Paperback: $12.95.

John Cassavetes: Lifeworks
by Tom Charity. London, New York and Victoria: Omnibus Press, 2001. 257 pp., illus. Paperback: $19.95.

As nearly as I can remember, I had two opportunities to meet John Cassavetes in the flesh, both times in New York, and I deliberately passed on both of them. Shortly after Faces came out in the mid-Sixties, a friend from my home town in Alabama who worshipped that film even more than I did — Shadows was still my own favorite then — came to town and found a way of contacting and then going to meet his idol, who was preparing Husbands at the time; he invited me to come along, and I declined.… Read more »

My 50 Favorite Films of the 21st Century so far (including some second thoughts): a sequel of sorts

A surprising consequence of my posting “My 25 Favorite Films of the 2000s (so far)” on this site on June 21 was that visits to my site suddenly quadrupled, going from about a thousand per day to well over 4,000. This was encouraging — and for me a good response to Robert Koehler’s charge that such list-making was pointless (because the need for viewing suggestions in a context where there are too many choices strikes me — and apparently many others — as self-evident).

De-lautre-cote

Yet the haste with which I put together my original list also led to some subsequent second thoughts and demurrals. So with this in mind, I’ve come up with a new list of 50 instead of 25, substituting one title in the original list after my friend Janet Bergstrom persuaded me that Chantal Akerman’s From the Other Side was a much worthier example of Akerman’s work than Down There (which I’d listed partially as a provocation, without a sufficient amount of reflection). As with my original list of titles, I’ve stuck to the same rule of including only one film by each filmmaker, and the order is alphabetical. And again, with very few exceptions (e.g., The Clock, Uncle Boonmee), commentaries on these films (of varying lengths) can be found on this site, accessible via the search engine.… Read more »

Sexism in the French New Wave

From Film Quarterly (Spring 2009). — J.R.

 

One way of looking back at the sense of male privilege underlying much of the French New Wave would be to consider Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) as a belated commentary on it. I’ve long regarded that masterpiece as a late-blooming, final flowering of the New Wave, especially for its referentiality in relation to cinephilia and film criticism. For one thing, it glories in the kind of compulsive doubling of shots and characters that François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette himself all discovered in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. But it also puts a kind of stopper on the New Wave in the way it both underlines and responds to that movement’s sexism through the services of its four lead actresses, all of whom collaborated on its script: Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, and Marie-France Pisier. Every male character, both in the story proper and in the film-with-in-the-film, is viewed as absurd, both as a romantic fop and as a narcissist who ultimately elicits the heroines’ scorn and ridicule: the patriarch (Barbet Schroeder) in the Phantom Ladies over Paris segments, playing his two phantom ladies (Ogier and Pisier) off against one another; and, in the story proper, Julie’s small-town suitor (Philippe Clévenot), Céline’s boss (Jean Douchet), and various male customers at the cabaret.Read more »

Moviegoing at Cannes: Classics without labels (1971)

This page of festival coverage in The Village Voice (June 17, 1971) appeared (without any photos) after my second trip to the festival; if memory serves, my first trip there, in 1970, yielded no writing at all. One complication about this piece is that Amos Vogel and I jointly discovered after arriving at the festival that a separate editor at the Voice had given each of us the assignment of “covering” the festival. After Amos checked back at the front office about this, it was agreed at the Voice that we both write coverage, about separate films, which we wound up doing for two years in a row.

I think this article manages to convey some of the political flavor of the early 70s, although it’s worth adding that all the films listed here with the exception of Sontag’s Brother Carl are currently either available on DVD or are about to be (e.g., Portabella’s Cuadecuc – Vampir, identified here incorrectly as Vampyr). Indeed, strange as it seems, the most “out of date” detail here is a single shot I describe in Cuadecuc – Vampir (“a ghoulishly made-up actress making a face at someone between takes”), which Portabella inexplicably (and lamentably) has subsequently removed from the film.Read more »

The Tower [short story]

This is a story, never before published, written during my first years of high school — most likely in 1958, when I was a sophomore. I’ve done some light editing. The illustrations, which I realize are not always consistent with one another or precisely congruent with the story, are all gleaned from the Internet. This story is the first in a series of three to be posted here, all fantasies and all written when I was in high school . — J.R.

The Tower

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

When I first woke up in the tower, I looked around, feeling strange and disoriented. I’d never been there before – never been anywhere before, as well as I can recall – and I’d just woken up, yet I’d never gone to sleep. I felt clean and fresh and wore plain clothes, but who was I, and what was I doing here?

I was in a small room that was empty except for the cot I was lying on and a chair.… Read more »

Straub-Huillet’s ÉCRITS and a Few Comparable Insights

 I’ve lost track of when I originally posted this, but it may have been on March 21, 2012. In any case, the English version of this collection is now available. — J.R.

 

This book has clearly been a long time coming. Like Pedro Costa and (the otherwise very different) Alain Resnais, Jean-Marie Straub and the late Danièle Huillet should be regarded as film critics and film historians who aren’t really writers in any ordinary sense. (Resnais’ critical and historical gifts, I would argue, are mainly apparent in his films rather than in his interviews.) When I curated the last American retrospective of Straub-Huillet’s work to date almost thirty years ago, the accompanying catalogue of essays that I put together to accompany this event, partially with their advice and assistance, included a lengthy section entitled “Straub and Huillet on Filmmakers They Like and Related Matters,” drawn from a dozen separate sources and translated, when necessary, by me — not always gracefully, I’m sorry to say. (I’ll be posting my lengthy Introduction to this catalogue a couple of days from now.)

Although it’s beyond my current means to reproduce the entirety of “Straub and Huillet on Filmmakers They Like and Related Matters” here (I wish I could), I can offer a sampling from it below, some of which appears in their original French in Écrits (e.g., the texts on Lubitsch and Dreyer), and some of which is drawn from interviews and public appearances in English (e.g., the texts on Tati, Renoir, Buñuel, Hawks, and Nicholas Ray), which don’t appear there.Read more »

JOHNNY GUITAR: The First Existential Western

Written for the Olive Films Blu-Ray, which came out in 2016. — J.R.

johnny-guitar-dialogue

François Truffaut called it the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, without saying who was the beauty and who was the beast. (One could find many candidates for either role). And Jean-Luc Godard, in his second feature, Le Petit Soldat, offered a spin on the movie’s most celebrated dialogue exchange, before offering explicit references to Johnny Guitar in several other films he made in the 60s:

Johnny (Sterling Hayden): Tell me something nice.

Vienna (Joan Crawford): Sure. What would you like to hear?

Johnny: Lie to me, tell me that all these years you’ve waited, tell me.

Vienna: All these years I’ve waited.

Johnny: Tell me you’d have died if I hadn’t come back.

Vienna: I would have died if you hadn’t come back.

Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.

Vienna: I still love you like you love me.

Johnny (softly and sarcastically, about to down another shot of whisky):

Thanks.

 

Bruno (Michel Subor): Lie to me . . . Say you aren’t sad that I’m leaving.

Véronica (Anna Karina): I’m not sad that you’re leaving. I’m not in love

with you.Read more »

International Harvest [Films about Films]

From the Chicago Reader (November 22, 1996). — J.R.

Typically British

Directed by Mike Dibb and Stephen Frears

Written by Charles Barr and Frears.

2 X 50 Years of French Cinema

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Anne-

Marie Mieville and Jean-Luc Godard

With Godard and Michel Piccoli.

I Am Curious, Film

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Stig Bjorkman

With Lena Nyman and Bjorn Granath.

100 Years of Japanese Cinema

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed and written by

Nagisa Oshima.

Yang + Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema

***

Directed and written by Stanley Kwan.

/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/100yearsofjapanesecinema1.jpg

To celebrate the “100th anniversary of cinema,” the British Film Institute has commissioned a series of documentaries about national cinemas. Some of them are still being made, but the first 13 are showing at the Film Center as part of a series that started early this month with the three-part A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (excellent) and has continued with documentaries by Sam Neill on New Zealand cinema (witty), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos on Latin American cinema (ambitious but unsuccessful), by Edgar Reitz on German cinema (embarrassing), and by Pawel Lozinski on Polish cinema, realizing an outline by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski (I haven’t seen it).… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 3)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

Don Quichotte - Francisco Reiguera

 

DQ-autograveyard

 

June 13, 1994

Dear Bill,

It’s good to have all your multifaceted thoughts about It’s All True, which makes your letter worth the long wait. I especially value what you have to say regarding the political implications of the film in the 1940s as well as the 1990s, because it seems that those implications have mainly eluded critics in both decades. As you well know, it wasn’t until Robert Stam published “Orson Welles, Brazil, and the Power of Blackness” in the seventh issue of Persistence of Vision (1989), with corroborating essays by both Catherine and Susan Ryan, that it finally became clear, forty-odd years after the event, that part of what was rattling so many studio executives and Brazilian government officials alike about Welles’s behavior in Rio was his particular interest in blacks. Maybe you’re right that he wasn’t a radical, but if It’s All True had been completed  and released in the early 1940s, it still might have offered a radical precedent: three Latin American stories focusing on non-white heroes.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 2)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

IAL-OW

IAT-OW on boat

June 7, 1994

Dear Jonathan,

Sorry to have been so long replying. As you say, much has happened since you wrote your letter. We both started out years ago in a series of polemical articles to correct received ideas of Welles, and we seem to be making progress. This Is Orson Welles and It’s All True will be more  widely read and seen than those articles ever were. Already Richard Combs, writing about f for fake in the January–February 1994 Film Comment, acknowledges the thesis of Welles the independent filmmaker advanced by you in “The Invisible Orson Welles” as a corrective to the idea of Welles the great failure, then proceeds to propose a new theory of the work, with failure of another kind inscribed in it from the start.  That article would have been unthinkable a few years ago, when what might be called the vulgar theory of failure was still dominant.

The work on the Welles legacy is going well: Oja is set to co-direct a documentary that will include several of the important fragments; The Deep and The Other Side of the Wind may be finished in the next couple of years, and hope springs eternal where The Merchant of Venice is concerned.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 1)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. The version here, including my introduction, comes from Discovering Orson Welles. – J.R.

discovering-orson-welles

This chapter -— the longest in my 2007 book Discovering Orson Welles, and in some ways my favorite -— was originally written for the French quarterly Trafic, and in fact was the first thing I ever wrote specifically for that magazine. The late Serge Daney (1942–1994) —- whom I’d known since his stint as editor of Cahiers du cinéma, when he’d gotten me to serve briefly as its New York correspondent (after Bill Krohn had shifted from that post to the same magazine’s Los Angeles correspondent) -— died of AIDS not longer after launching Trafic, and by my own choice, my first contribution, a memoir about working for Jacques Tati (see “The Death of Hulot” in my collection Placing Movies), was something I’d already written for and published in Sight and Sound. My second contribution was my brief introduction to Orson Welles’s “Memo to Universal”, an “outtake” from This Is Orson Welles that had been accepted by Serge’s coeditors (Raymond Bellour, Jean-Claude Biette, Sylvie Pierre, and Patrice Rollet) during Serge’s illness.Read more »

The Jester And The Queen

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). — J.R.

jester-and-the-queen-1987-jaroslav-fiser-poster-001

66679-the-jester-and-the-queen-0-150-0-225-crop

Since the 1960s, when she did brilliant, radical work (Something Different, Daisies, Fruit of Paradise) that arguably made her the most inventive living Czech filmmaker, Vera Chytilova has had a checkered, uneven career. This is in part because, unlike such compatriots as Passer and Forman, she chose to remain in her country, where her work has ranged from bouncy sitcom (The Apple Game) to fairly unabashed state propaganda (Prague) to more ambitious fare (Prefab Story). This feature — adapted by her and Bolislav Polivka from a comic stage piece he wrote, and starring Polivka (a gifted mime) and his real-life wife Chantal Poulainova — is probably Chytilova’s best since the 60s. A quixotic custodian of a castle (Polivka) serves as a guide to a German tourist (Jiri Kodet) and his French fiancee (Poulainova); he imagines himself as a medieval court jester, with Poulainova as queen, and the film switches back and forth between the real characters and their fantasy counterparts. As eclectic and as aggressive a stylist as Charles Mingus, Chytilova employs wide-angle lenses, dizzying camera movements, and restless editing; as in Daisies, her fascination with power and gender roles projects a dangerous, Dionysian sexuality, and the trilingual dialogue spoken by the three leads adds complexity to the proceedings.… Read more »